ATLANTA -- This time, Auburn was the sloppy one, with a couple of turnovers, a blocked field goal and a trip to a lesser bowl. Not that Georgia played flawlessly Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium along the way to a 28-7 thrashing of the Tigers during a play-in matchup for the College Football Playoff disguised as the SEC championship game.
The Bulldogs had a touchdown called back due to offensive pass interference on an illegal pick play. After they stopped Auburn with a momentum-killing interception, they had the whole thing negated when a Georgia player was called for a face-masking. Once, they were flagged for not having enough defensive players on the field. They had a mindless interference penalty on one play, and they let Auburn off the hook on another when they got nailed for roughing the passer after the Tigers were called for intentional grounding.
Whatever. No. 6 Georgia stormed into college football's final four by destroying No. 4 Auburn on offense, defense and special teams.
Actually, the Bulldogs were more impressive than that.
"Our goal today was to come out and compete, and we stressed two words the entire week, because we tried to keep it really simple," said the always hoarse Kirby Smart, who had even more squeaks in his voice after taking Georgia to its first SEC championship since 2005 in his second season at his alma mater. As for those "two words," Kirby said, "Composure and physicality, and it was a physical, tough game. We kept our composure, for the most part."
All of those miscues for the Bulldogs didn't matter, because they had a bunch of other things in their favor. They had a freshman quarterback who often resembled a seasoned veteran. In fact, Jake Fromm completed 16 of his 22 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He also helped Georgia's 15-point explosion in the fourth quarter with the easiest of 17-yard runs during a scoring drive. If that wasn't enough for the Bulldogs on offense, they had the accomplished duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel producing 122 of Georgia's 238 rushing. Even so, freshman D'Andre Swift sealed the rout in the fourth after he became a blur for 64 yards to the end zone.
That said, there is a reason Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith grabbed the game's most valuable player award. He was everywhere. So were his defensive teammates, which is why the Tigers didn't score again after they took the opening kickoff 75 yards on 10 plays for the early 7-0 lead.
So you can expect the Bulldogs to jump in the CFP standings Sunday afternoon from their present No. 6 spot to, well, maybe to No. 1, where they stood three weeks ago before getting rocked by 29 points at Auburn.
I mean, why not Georgia at the top?
"That's a bold statement," Smart said, an expert on potential greatness or even the real thing since he was a defensive coach at Alabama during all four of Nick Saban's national championships with the Crimson Tide. "I'll be honest with you. With this team, there really is no home-field advantage. They're excited to be in the playoff. We don't concern ourselves with rankings, and we never have. What does it really matter if you're one through four? Making the playoff. That was our goal, and that's what we've achieved."
Yeah, but it took Georgia a while against Auburn. For more than a quarter before what basically was a home crowd of barking fans since the Bulldogs' home in Athens is just 70 miles away to the east, you couldn't tell if they learned anything from the last time.
The last time? Yikes.
That was Nov. 11, when Auburn crushed its No. 1-ranked visitors who looked overwhelmed during a 40-17 blowout. They couldn't handle Auburn's relentless front seven on defense. They were pounded with lots of running from Kerryon Johnson, the SEC's leading rusher. They let Tigers sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham audition for next year's Heisman Trophy. They couldn't end the silly mistakes. They looked as awful back then as they did in this rematch against Auburn until everything changed in a flash.
Soon after Auburn spent the start of the second quarter sprinting inside of the red zone in search of increasing its 7-0 lead, Stidham was sacked and stripped of the ball by Georgia linebacker Davin Bellamy. The Bulldogs recovered, and 84 yards later, they were in the end zone for a 7-7 tie. Suddenly, the same Georgia runners who couldn't do much of anything at Auburn (46 yards rushing overall) were back to their prolific selves. In addition, Fromm kept delivering efficient throws against Auburn's stout defense to put Georgia into position for a couple of field goals and a 13-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
"Jake is sort of our mailman," Smart said, easing into a smile. "He's the deliverer of the packages, and he does a good job of that."
Through it all, Georgia defenders kept showing why they entered the game with the nation's fifth-best scoring defense (13.8 point per game) by shutting down Johnson and his aching right shoulder (44 yards rushing) and making dynamic plays in general. None surpassed Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter forcing Johnson into a fumble early in the fourth quarter. Again, the Bulldogs recovered. This time, they went 39 yards on four plays for a touchdown, and after Fromm's pass to Terry Godwin for a two-point conversion, Auburn was unofficially done at 21-7 with barely 13 minutes left to play.
Smith recovered both of Auburn's fumbles, by the way. He also had a game-leading 13 tackles, including 10 solo ones and two quarterback hurries. But his key moment was grabbing that second-quarter fumble, when Auburn threatened to smash Georgia a second time in the month.
"You never want to make the moment too big or anything like that," said Smith, destined as a junior at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds to become somebody's first pick in the next NFL Draft. "All I remember was seeing one of my guys just hit the ball, and when the ball was on the ground, it took me back to practice. It was like scoop drills, so I just took the ball to see if I could get what I could get."
It got Smith a fancy award, and it got his team a playoff spot.